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Sat 1 Sep 2007 11:01 AM

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Plastic's not fantastic

ME shoppers need to wean themselves off using a dozen plastic bags for every supermarket trip.

It is estimated that around 100 billion plastic bags are sold annually across the world. Over 90% of all bags used to carry grocery are of the disposable plastic variety.

The Progressive Bag Alliance, a US-based pressure group dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of throwaway plastic bags, says that 9% of waste in the world's landfills is plastic, and half of that quantity is plastic bags.

The US alone is reportedly responsible for 12 million barrels of oil per year being used in the manufacture of the plastic bags it consumes.

These statistics must be added to the environmental impact of the manufacturing and transportation of the flyaway fiends.

The Middle East is not uniquely negligent in ignoring the damage to the environment inflicted by supermarket shopping bags, but it certainly exhibits a culture of caring more about convenience than being green.

At any trip to a Gulf supermarket, petrol forecourt shop or convenience store, shoppers will walk away with almost as many plastic bags as products to carry.

Even a packet of cigarettes is considered sufficiently bulky to require its own plastic bag. Buy a litre of milk as well and you are likely to walk out with two bags.

There is an alternative, and it is rapidly gaining traction around the world. Reusing grocery bags is becoming fashionable in countries like Britain and the United States.

Other countries, cities and states are taking a more draconian approach and are banning flimsy plastic bags altogether, or imposing charges that make them unpopular.

In France, supermarkets began charging for plastic bags several years ago, and it is now almost universal for shoppers to take their own reusable bags to the store.

In San Francisco, non-biodegradable bags are banned in large grocery stores and pharmacies.

Mumbai and New Delhi have imposed an outright ban on the featherweight plastic bags that previously flew down city streets like tumbleweed.

Even where authorities have not imposed rules to tackle the problem, consumers are taking their own stands against disposable bags. The trend has become so entrenched that fashion houses have recognised a commercial opportunity.

Earlier this year, British designer handbag maker Anya Hindmarch released a $15 canvas grocery bag emblazoned with "I'm not a plastic bag" on its side. The bags became so popular that they are changing hands on eBay for up to $130.

Hermes has designed what it calls a SilkyPop bag that unfolds from a wallet-sized calfskin case into a shopping bag that looks like one of its famous silk scarves. It retails for almost $1000 in the US.

Louis Vuitton takes the trend to the greatest extreme with a $1720 canvas bag with its LVOE logo embroidered on the side using 620 gold and silver beads.

These overpriced status symbols might be the best chance for changing behaviours in the Middle East where image is everything - even in the supermarket.

But if $1720 for a Louis Vuitton shopping bag is a little out of reach, at least every shopper can make a small personal contribution to the environment by carrying home a packet of fags and a carton of milk in the same plastic bag.

Just say no to pointless plastic.

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